Hayley’s homecoming: Marblehead native Reardon returns to write album, play Me&Thee

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Folk pop singer-songwriter Hayley Reardon is home again, and this time she will be staying put — at least for a little while.

In addition to her show at Marblehead’s Me&Thee Music on Friday, Feb. 17 and other local gigs, she has rented a house in Gloucester, where she plans to spend a few months writing her first full-length album in years.

But if the past is prologue, where Reardon’s music might take her after that is anyone’s guess.

The Current recently caught up with Reardon to hear a bit about her travels, which have included recording sessions in Barcelona, a residency in Dachau, Germany; and a particularly harrowing horseback ride in Scandinavia.

Marblehead native Hayley Reardon, scheduled to perform at Me&Thee Music Feb. 17, returns to town after her music took her on some European adventures. COURTESY PHOTO / JULIA LIEBISCH

Now 26, Reardon acknowledges that she is in a “gap year moment of my life.” The nature of her music means that Ticketmaster will probably never crash from the demand for tickets to her stadium tour.

“For a lot of people, what I do is boring,” she says, drawing a raised eyebrow from her interviewer.

Reardon rephrases, giving herself the benefit of the same innate kindness that led her to become a peer spokesperson for PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center when she was a student at Marblehead High School.

“It’s very contained, and it’s intimate,” she says of her music. “There’s a certain type of person that feels things deeply and connects in that way, and those have been the people that I have resonated with.”

Now, staring at an unyielding need to do some “adulting,” Reardon recognizes the importance of financial security, if only to extend the journey she has been on.

“But I feel very successful in my heart,” Reardon says.

Reardon still defines success as continuing to make intimate connections with people through her music.

“I can’t lose the intensity, or it will make me lose some of what makes it work for me,” she says.

Hayley’s travels

After graduating from Marblehead High School, Reardon headed off to Belmont University in Nashville, enrolling in its contemporary music program. But halfway through the four-year program, Reardon left school.

Reardon arrived on campus having already developed her own method for writing songs, and now she was being forced in a different direction — one more geared to the commercial country music scene.

“I was meeting with publishers in Nashville, and it wasn’t inspiring to me at all,” she says.

Still, for about a year and a half, Reardon used Nashville as her “home base” from which she would set off to perform shows. But she eventually grew weary of Music City. 

Some of her friends from school — including the one who crashed with her parents after playing at the Boston Garden a few months ago — have found “success” in the traditional sense.

“But for me to be in a place that people come to specifically to ‘make it’ is not the right energy,” Reardon says. “Beneath everything, there was this ambition machine that freaked me out.”

There was a brief interregnum during which Reardon came home and took some odd jobs, including on a flower farm in Essex and at a Boston restaurant. 

But then, quite unexpectedly, Reardon says she “randomly” started to field offers to go to Europe.

For about three years, Reardon and her guitar would cross the Atlantic Ocean for three months and then come home for three months. She developed a love for German culture in particular, and was thrilled to receive an invitation to do a six-month artist residency in Dachau, Germany.

Residents of Dachau accept that they may never escape the city’s immediate association with Nazi Germany’s first concentration camp. But it would like the world to think of it in other ways, too.

“Apparently, before World War II, it was known as an arts colony, and people would come from all over Germany to create it there,” Reardon says.

The artist-in-residence program is part of the city’s effort to reclaim that history. An artist bequeathed the city a beautiful villa, and every year, the city invites one person to live in a flat and just create.

Reardon got the nod after she played a tiny venue where a city official just happened to be moonlighting as the booking agent. 

“He said, ‘Would you like to live here and create? It’s very open; you can do what you want,’” Reardon says. 

Reardon jumped at the opportunity.

“I was very excited; I came home and got myself together and saved money,” she says.

Then, COVID intervened.

The Dachau residency would still happen, just not on its original timetable or as Reardon had initially envisioned it.

But as that door was closing temporarily, another one was opening.

Soul sister across the ocean

A self-described “very nervous person,” Reardon did not particularly enjoy the quarantine period of COVID-19 — and for good reason. Her father had just survived cancer and was at higher risk for developing serious complications from the disease. Reardon became terrified of bringing it home.

Part of what settled her jangled nerves was a song performed by a Barcelona-based singer from the Catalan music scene.

“I listened to it every night, and her voice was so calming to me,” Reardon says.

It did not matter a bit that Reardon could not understand a word the singer was saying.

As it turned out, Reardon knew the singer’s engineer, Aniol Bestit Collellmir. A fan of Reardon’s work, Collellmir would tease her on Instagram about coming to Spain anytime her travels brought her vaguely nearby.

As quarantine dragged on, Reardon sent Collellmir a song embodying her reflections on the craziness of COVID. The lyrics include “I walked the streets in my little town,” a reference to Marblehead.

Reardon asked Collellmir if he would be willing to work his magic on the track. He agreed but added, “Let me call my best friend first.”

Turns out that “friend” was Pau Figueres, one of Spain’s most revered guitarists.

Alone, Reardon says she has struggled to find a recorded sound that matches the energy of her creations. But the transcontinental collaboration with Collellmir and Figueres cured that problem. 

“I was like, ‘Oh my God, these people know me somehow,’” she says.

Figueres surprised her by adding a Flamenco solo to her song.

“But it didn’t feel detached; it felt right,” Reardon says.

Reardon’s travel itinerary in the summer of 2021 got a quick revision. Before heading to Dachau, she would take a month-long detour to Barcelona.

“Although I’d never met them, I just got on the plane and said, ‘You’ll pick me up at the airport,’” she recalls.

After a month in the studio with Collellmir and Figueres, Reardon had produced her latest EP, “In the Good Light.”

“It was like we were old friends … and musically so connected,” Reardon says. 

That detour to Spain also allowed Reardon to solve the mystery of the lyrics of that song that had gotten her through her pandemic anxiety. As it turned out, the singer was saying, “I Come From a Town by the Sea.”

Reardon’s travels took her to Spain, where she had a surprise encounter with her ‘soul sister across the ocean.’ COURTESY PHOTO / DANIELA MARCHIONE

Even better, Collellmir and Figueres planned a surprise dinner on the beach with the singer, who then gave Reardon a tour of the town, pointing out the sites referenced in her lyrics along the way.

“It was like my soul sister from across the ocean, in her little town by the sea,” Reardon says.

Immersed in Dachau

The COVID-19 pandemic scuttled many best laid plans, and Reardon’s time in Dachau was no different.

Even though she had been told she could do whatever she wanted once she arrived, Reardon had devised a very specific plan. With the help of a translator, she would interview residents and then retell their stories in song, which would be recorded as an EP.

But the pandemic scrambled those plans, in part because Reardon had a backlog of postponed shows to clear off her calendar. 

In between tour stops, Reardon managed to immerse herself in the local culture, even learning some songs in German to perform with the mayor’s band.

“I would go to their rehearsals in this little basement room of a local elementary school, and then we’d go for Greek food,” she says.

Reardon also played solo multiple times, including at an outdoor festival and at the local hangout Café Gramsci.

She also regularly walked the streets and visited a castle, from which one can gaze at the outline of the Alps.

Dachau also proved to be a useful hub for Reardon’s tour stops, where other connections were made and other adventures ensued, like the harrowing ride on horseback through the dark woods in Sweden. When Reardon expressed concern about setting out given the conditions, she was told, “Just follow the horses. The horses know the way.”

It turns out Reardon’s host had been a renowned trainer of Icelandic horses until one day she suffered a medical emergency during a ride. The ever-faithful steed interpreted what was happening to the trainer as a command to run over a cliff and dutifully complied. By some miracle, both survived, though the woman was permanently disabled.

It was only after Reardon dismounted from her white-knuckle ride that she found out that she had been on the very same horse that had gone over the cliff. If she had known, there was no chance she would have gotten in the saddle, she says.

“Sweden is not for the faint of heart,” she says.

Return to Me&Thee

As with many of her most recent shows, Reardon’s appearance at the Me&Thee is a “makeup” for a concert originally scheduled for March 2020, just as the pandemic was starting.

Though there is still time for the plan to change, Reardon believes that it will be just her and her guitar up on the stage at the Unitarian Universalist Church.

“When that happens, I tend to like to tell stories,” she says.

Consider that fair warning, concertgoers. By daring to venture far from her “town by the sea,” Reardon has collected no shortage of source material.

Tickets for Reardon’s Feb. 17 show at the Me&Thee ($25 general admission, $10 students) are available online at meandthee.org or at the Arnould Gallery, 111 Washington St. Doors open at 7:15 p.m., and the performance will begin at 8 p.m.

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